By Mariah Ashley
Last week we had a meeting with a bride, her mother, and her sister. Somehow we got on the topic of the book "Orange is the New Black" and its author Piper Kerman. The mother of the bride mentioned that her friend had met Piper Kerman at a party and that she was a real disappointment. According to the friend, Piper Kerman wasn't dramatic or interesting at all, just a regular person with nothing engrossing to share.
I felt myself blushing and looking down at my hands and notes when she described the author this way, and not because I spent the night in jail when I was fifteen either (that's a story for another day). I felt nervous because I wondered if like me, Ms. Kerman sometimes feared she was perceived as more fun on paper than in real life. I felt really rattled by the conversation but couldn't quite figure out why.
Similarly, last summer Trish and I arrived at a wedding and were greeted by a very enthusiastic bridesmaid. She gushed that she had been following our blog for a year and loved reading all of our hilarious posts. Trish graciously told her that I was said hilarious blog writer. The bridesmaid turned to me and told me that meeting me was like meeting a celebrity. Huh? This did not make me feel good.
In that moment I absolutely wanted to evaporate. I immediately felt a crushing pressure to be fabulous and simultaneously felt every shred of interesting, witty, and clever in my body dry up and blow away like dust. Poof.
I had shrinkage, not the physical kind, a-la George Costanza takes a dip in the cold water and his "inadequacies" are revealed to all, but the personality kind. It was like she threw my brain into a bucket of ice water and my brain was all like, "Sorry, I got nothin'. Shrinkage!"
In that moment I became the most boring person on the planet and for the duration of the event was unable to recover from it. Just like George my social inadequacies were revealed to all. How very disappointing.
Have you ever felt like that? Well, you may be an introvert like me. I'm reading a book now called "Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. She poses a 20 question quiz for identifying yourself as introverted.
See if you answer yes to any of these questions:
1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
2. I prefer to express myself in writing.
3. I enjoy solitude.
4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status.
5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about topics that matter to me.
6. People tell me that I am a good listener.
7. I'm not a big risk taker.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
9. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends and family members.
10. People describe me as "soft spoken" or "mellow".
11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's finished.
12. I dislike conflict.
13. I do my best work on my own.
14. I tend to think before I speak.
15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
16. I often let calls go through to voicemail.
17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
18. I don't enjoy multi-tasking.
19. I can concentrate easily.
20. In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
Well, I'm 20 for 20. You?
I've always felt "less-than" in this world that prizes extroverts. Introverts get a bad rap. They are often perceived as shy or weak.
But according to Cain,
A few things introverts are not: The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly. One of the most humane phrases in the English language - "Only connect!" - was written by the distinctly introverted E.M. Forster in a novel exploring how to achieve "human love at its height." Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not over stimulating.
That's me! I can be super friendly but then I need time to myself to recharge my batteries. Being around people is fine for a while but it doesn't fill my tanks, it depletes them.
Recently though, I have found a way to really make my introversion work for my business: phone Conversations. Seems counter intuitive doesn't it? For a while now I have felt that I have been letting potential clients slip through my fingers. Email inquiries pour into my inbox and I respond in kind with personalized friendly emails (love expressing myself through writing) and attached price list.
Then I wait.
Some people book, but many others are never heard from again. Our ratio of leads turned to bookings seemed out of whack to me. Deep down I knew that although I preferred to express myself through writing the email, the real me would actually be more fun and effective in person. Ugh, my worst nightmare.
Then I remembered something I heard at Jeffery Shaw's seminar at Imaging USA. He promised that if we would face our limiting beliefs that our biggest fear could become our greatest joy. Shortly after when I watched a lecture from photographer Susan Stripling and she talked about calling her leads, I decided it was time to pick up the phone. The next time I got an email I responded with a friendly greeting and a request to chat on the phone.
Later that day I found myself deep in conversation with Marion. She told me all about her partner, Erin, and how they were so thrilled to be able to be married in Rhode Island. We talked about marriage equality, the blending of their families (Erin had children from a previous marriage), and the importance of their family and friends being bearing witness to this amazing day in their lives.
Marion expressed that they were both camera shy but understood the importance of documenting the day. I told her how at my own wedding (a second marriage for me) the most important photograph for me was the portrait of my blended family, and how I hung it proudly in my living room. I thanked Marion for taking the time to tell me about herself and her plans and encouraged her to call me with any questions.
Later that day she emailed me, she didn't have any questions but she did have this to say:
I just spoke to Erin about our conversation and SNAP as a good option for our photography. We did not intend initially to invest this amount into photography, but it is an important day and lasting memories will be important and a source of enjoyment for years to come. As we discussed--we don't have many photos of the two of us and so this alone is of great value to us. Finally, photos of the four of us on this day are also of great value and I suspect may be the photo of the day for us. Your work is clearly exceptional and so booking leaves me comfortable that this part of the day will be well covered.
I never would have booked this wedding had I not asked Marion to chat with me over the phone. Had I just sent my standard email she would have disappeared into the internet abyss. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was using 5 of the 20 traits cited in the introvert "quiz" above.
Trait #1: I may not be great in group activities, but I am really good with one-on-one conversations. When I called Marion, I didn't sit at my desk, I curled up on the couch and even threw a blanket over my lap like I would do when chatting with my sister. This put me in the mood to talk to Marion like someone I already knew.
Trait #4: Introverts care less about wealth and fame. I feel uncomfortable talking to my clients about money for this reason: I will never be able to "hard sell" or "close the deal." That's just not my style. I gave Marion a range of prices on the phone, but told her I would email her the specifics after our conversation which made it easier to focus on connecting with her.
Trait #5: It's also true that I dislike small talk, but enjoy talking in depth about subjects that matter to me. I was able to skip over the small talk and focus on meaningful topics like marriage equality and the importance of documenting Marion's new family--both subjects that I believe in strongly. For this reason I believe Marion felt connected to me and comfortable that our ideals were in line with each other.
Trait #6: People tell me I am a good listener. I used to think that calling a potential client meant that I had to do a lot of talking and that's why I avoided it. What it actually means is that I should do a lot of listening. I asked Marion a few leading questions such as; "What kind of photography are you drawn to?" and then I just let her talk.
Trait #14: I tend to think before I speak. This ties into trait #6. Because I am listening intently, it's easy for me to deliberately add sensitive observations and insights to the conversation.
Marion felt heard and we made a personal connection. For her, hiring us became a no brainer. I felt rewarded and energized by our conversation. I tried my new approach on the next five inquiries. Within 48 hours, four of them had emailed to say they would like to book with us. Now that's the kind of lead conversion I'm talkin' about!
Introverts of the world! Hear my words! Did you know that Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Dr. Seuss, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Barbara Streisand, Gandhi, Warren Buffett and Albert Einstein all identified themselves as introverted? We're in good company my friends.
Your perceived weaknesses are actually your greatest assets! Harness the quiet power within you and reach out to potential clients who are looking for a personal connection (i.e. reason to hire you over your competitor). You can do it, curl up on the couch and have a nice old fashioned conversation with someone you don't know.
Your business, but more importantly your heart and your clients will thank you for it.